West of Dead Review (Steam)

Game: West of Dead
Genre: Indie, Action, Adventure, Action Roguelike
System: Steam, Xbox One, GOG, Humble Bundle, PC
Developer | Publisher: Upstream Arcade | Raw Fury
Age Rating: US E10+ | EU 7+
Price: USD $19.99 | CAD $22.79 | £15.49 | € 19.99
Release Date: June 18, 2020 on Steam & Xbox One / August 5, 2020 on Switch & PS4

Review code used with many thanks to Raw Fury!

A Tale of Skulls and Fire

Purgatory. Wyoming. 1888. 

You wake up with one heck of a hot headache in the middle of a run-down bar. Yup, you’re dead. You certainly didn’t expect death to be lookin’ like this. Expected it to be… well, maybe nicer, or at least cleaner. 

I suppose if my floors were made of dirt, I wouldn’t bother sweeping either.

But your head is literally a skull engulfed in flames, so who are you to judge. Turns out Purgatory is havin’ its own problems; looks like somethin’ has bunged up the works, and now no one can move on. Everyone is stuck-like.

In life you just happened to be a sheriff, upholding the laws and bringing justice to the corrupt. Looks like you’ll have to pick up the old six-shooter and get back to work, even in death. Heck, maybe if you do the job right, you’ll be able to move on yourself… or perhaps just remember how you got here in the first place.

A Tale of Guns and Cover

The promotional material is very clear that West of Dead is a cover-based shooter. What this means is that you’ll travel through tight corridors until you reach a more open space; in this space, you will encounter a horde of enemies to fight your way through. Each open area will have several square or rectangular objects (coffins, boxes, pews, and plinths, etc.) on the ground that you can duck and hide behind. 

This cover isn’t infallible. Enemies will try to shoot at you and attack you, and if they hit the cover you are hiding behind they will chip away at it until it eventually disappears. Each piece of cover will re-spawn after a time, and there is even an upgrade you can purchase (it’s very expensive) that will make any lost cover immediately regenerate. 

That’s why I say: “Hey man, nice shot.”

Another major point about this game is that it involves “the fluidity of twin-stick controls”. And when they say that, they mean it. Now, I was playing this game on my PC via Steam, but I connected my Nintendo pro-controller and used that to play this game.

(I don’t know, perhaps something about growing up with controllers and consoles rather than a PC makes me feel more comfortable with a controller in my hand rather than a mouse and keyboard… but I digress.)

So I can attest that the twin-stick controls feel amazingly smooth. You move around with the L-stick and then aim with the right. The aiming has a bit of auto-aim to it. As long as you’re pointing towards an enemy, you will see a yellow sort of half-circle at the feet of whichever enemy will be the recipient of your bullets.

The B button though is going to be your best friend in West of Dead. This is your dodge button. If pressed, B will launch your character into a very smooth roll. If you happen to hit B at the right time, you will even get a neat little flash into slo-mo bullet-time letting you know you executed a perfect dodge.

The dodge cannot be abused. After you press it, there is a little bit of waiting time before when you can dodge again. One of the first enemies you encounter is a dude with a rifle who always fires two quick shots in succession; if you manage to dodge the first shot, you’re almost inevitably going to get hit by the second unless your first dodge slid you behind some cover.

This makes the game much more challenging and much more fun and interesting! 

When you are close to a piece of cover, you can press B and you’ll execute a very cool slide that will put you right into the safety. While in cover, if you press B and a direction you can hop up and slide over to the other side of cover. 

It’s all so slick and smooth and feels amazing to play. The controls almost sing in your hands. Of course, when I was being hit by an attack, I was definitely feeling a lot of button-mash panic, but I eventually just got better at reacting and I felt good every time I picked up the controller.

You have two weapons, each one can be fired by pressing ZR or ZL. Depending on what kind of gun you have depends on how much ammo you have, or how fast you can shoot. You can pick up revolvers that will allow you to just hold the trigger down, and you’ll empty your clip rapid-fire style into the targeted enemy. Or, you can have shotguns, pistols, or rifles that make you have to press the trigger every time to expel a bullet.

That is another really fun part of the game: figuring out what all the different weapons do, how they feel, and then deciding which ones you like and want to equip. I personally loved the rapid-fire revolvers; I just felt safer with two of them in my arsenal. 

You can have two items equipped as well. These are activated using the L and R buttons and you will pick them up randomly in chests throughout your run. My favourite was the lantern: an item you can toss out and it will bathe an area in light for a short duration, as well as stun any baddies near it. 

Gimme something good!

A Tale of Difficulty and Darkness

You’d think that having a big ole ball of fire constantly on your head would mean you don’t really have trouble with the dark.

Like, your head should LITERALLY light up the darkness, right?

But nooOOOooooo, not in West of Dead. As you progress through the levels and areas, it just gets darker and darker. And boy howdy, the sheriff can’t shoot so well in the dark. 

Even if you literally see the bullet trails coming from a corner, and then you aim and shoot in that exact area, there’s only a very slim chance your bullets will connect if that corner is in darkness.

I SUPPOSE you could say this makes the game more realistic and fair. I SUPPOSE I could agree that if I could just shoot anything anywhere for free it would make the game a little too easy. So I SUPPOSE I won’t say it’s a bad thing… 

My point: you honestly have to run around each baddie-infested area hitting Y to ignite any lamps you see in order to properly, and effectively, attack the enemies. 

I love lamp!

If you don’t, your bullets will run wild and rampant! Like a herd of berserk buffalo.

I would be kiting an enemy, running backward into a hallway with the enemy literally right in front of me in a thin hallway, and I would shoot directly at it, but because it was dark the bullets would just fling wildly about. I’d say the hit rate is probably only about 20% in the dark.

Have I talked about the dark enough yet?! The POINT: light up the area—while dodging between cover—and you’ll have a much better time. Oh, and get the lantern as soon as you can, so useful!

A Tale of Sound and Artwork

The sound in this game is some of the best, most atmospheric music that I have ever heard in a game. It’s purgatory back in the old wild west, so of course, the music perfectly plucks those doleful and dulcet tones on the guitar and bass guitar.

Every time you get into a battle with baddies the music will crop up, making everything feel more tense, exciting, and old-western-y. The best part is that a little musical crescendo will play every time you have cleared an area, immediately letting you know you’re safe to run around outside of cover. It’s not infallible, sometimes I would hear the music and start running about only to find a rifleman hidden in a faraway corner. 

The sound effects are also stellar and oh-so-satisfying; bullets being shot and hitting their mark sound realistic, and even the sound when you execute a perfect dodge move does wonders to make me feel like a real (excuse my language, but I don’t know how else to describe it) badass.

The graphics and artwork are cell-shaded and really put you into the world of a dirty, gritty afterlife. Sometimes, I personally found it a bit too dark… but I think that was just some levels in particular. For example, this one level—The Churchyard—was so gosh-darn dark, and swarming with very tough enemies; half the time I’d be running to light a lantern only to be dead before I even had a chance to drink my health potion.

It is a very artistic game though, just looking at the main character is enough to make me go “Yeah, I want to play this game.”

Checkpoint. Your move.

The other huge audio/visual point is that they scored the gritty voice of Ron Pearlman to voice the main character and read all of the story and flavour text.

It really and truly is the perfect old wild-west voice; I remember watching an interview with a creator of West of Dead at an online gaming conference recently. He said that when they hopped on board with Raw Fury, Raw Fury asked them who—in their dream-paradise-world—they’d want to be the voice actor. They jokingly said Ron Pearlman (thinking they’d NEVER get him, but would find someone who could do a similar voice), but then Raw Fury came back and said: “Done and done”, and all their jaws just dropped!

Anyway, this game couldn’t have done better in the sound department in my opinion.

A Tale of Extras and Fun

The game is full of little extras and fun things that will keep you coming back for more, even if you just keep dying and dying on the second level as I did. 

There are a bunch of “memories” to find, dropped by bosses and baddies throughout the levels; when you take these memories back to the “witch woman”, as she’s called, you will watch some cool but disjointed cutscenes. Each cutscene is magnificently voiced by Mr. Pearlman and will give you info on the story. You’ll slowly remember who you were in life, who the main bad guy was, and why exactly Purgatory is all messed up right now.

It can get pretty sad and dark, but hey, wasn’t that the modus operandi of the wild west anyway?

Sometimes, there will be a lost soul standing in a corner of the level. You can interact with them and take on their “burden”, thus allowing them to move on. This curse will make it so that if you take even one tiny hit, you will die. You have to defeat a certain number of enemies without getting hit to lift the curse. The cursed people will drop handy weapons and items, so sometimes it can be worth it. I found myself looking at the poor lost souls sometimes and going “Nope nope nope, can’t help you!”

No regrets. 

A Tale of Little Niggles

My only little niggle is one I have already kind of mentioned: the fact that sometimes the levels are so gosh-darn dark that it’s hard to even see where the doors are, let alone the bad guys. 

And the fact that a character with a flaming head has such an amazingly hard time shooting properly in the dark… but that’s just my own personal gripe. I honestly think it adds to the game’s challenge, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel salty about it. 

A Tale of a Final Verdict

West of Dead reminds me of Dark Souls a little bit in that it made me feel like I was leveling up my own ability to play the game, rather than just leveling up a stat and then all of a sudden being able to stomp.

I haven’t really played many roguelike games, but if this is what they can be like, then sign me up. I loved the fact that every level was procedurally generated and thus different every time I entered it.

This is especially good because you will (likely) die a lot, and when you die you have to go back to the beginning. You get to keep any upgrades you’ve unlocked, like the health potion, but any guns, buffs, and items you had must be re-collected throughout the levels.

The point: after dying a lot, it’s nice to start back at the beginning and basically be playing a whole new game again. 

I would highly recommend this game to anyone, even if you’re not a fan of the genre. I honestly wouldn’t have counted myself among the fans of the genre and probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to pick this one up.

BUT, I would have missed out on a truly amazing game that is worth a purchase and worth a play. So no matter who you are, consider giving this one a go.

It comes out on the Switch on August 5th, don’t let it pass you by. Raw Fury knows what they’re doing when they publish a game, after all.

Final verdict: I like it a lot!

I like it a lot!


  1. Another winner from publisher Raw fury. They are quite literally on fore with their releases. Think ill jump on this when it comes to Switch. Also a great review well done

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